Driest India Monsoon in Six Years Hurts Crops, Lowers Reservoirs

  • Harvests of rice, corn, cotton set to fall for second year
  • First back-to-back shortfall in monsoon in three decades

India got the lowest monsoon rainfall since 2009 as the strongest El Nino in almost two decades parched vast tracts of farm land, hurting rice, corn and sugar cane crops.

Rainfall was 14 percent less than the 50-year average of 89 centimeters (35 inches) between June and September, the Indian Meteorological Department said on its website Wednesday. The state forecaster had predicted showers to be 88 percent of the average.

The first back-to-back shortfall in three decades has wilted crops and cut water levels in the nation’s main dams. The El Nino is changing weather across the globe, baking parts of Asia and bringing wet weather to parts of South America. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government may tap state stockpiles of rice and wheat and import more lentils and cooking oils to meet a shortfall and sustain economic growth in Asia’s third-largest economy.

“The advantage for India is that global commodity prices are low and our imports will be cheaper,” said Soumyajit Niyogi, an interest-rate strategist at SBI DFHI Ltd. in Mumbai. “The government’s willingness to import will stabilize prices. I don’t think the deficient rainfall will have a major impact on inflation.”

The monsoon accounts for about 80 percent of India’s total showers, and affects both summer and winter sowing. The monsoon rainfall waters more than half of the farmland, where sowing begins in June.

El Nino

Northwest India, which includes cotton, rice and sugar cane growing states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, got 83 percent of the average rainfall compared with a prediction of 85 percent, the bureau said. Showers were 84 percent in central India, the main cotton and soybean regions,. Southern states of Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, the main producers of coffee, rice and rubber, got 85 percent average precipitation, the bureau said.

El Nino this year is the strongest since 1997-98, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. The below-par performance of the monsoon also imperils the outlook of winter crops including wheat, which are mostly irrigated. The water levels at India’s 91 main reservoirs is 60 percent of the capacity as of Sept. 23, less than the 75 percent a year earlier and below the 77 percent average of the last 10 years, official data show.

India’s monsoon-sown food grain production may total 124.05 million metric tons this year, down from 126.3 million tons a year earlier, according to the farm ministry. Sugar production will drop 4.6 percent to 27 million tons in the 12 months starting Oct. 1 from a year earlier , the Indian Sugar Mills Association said this week.

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